Most registered nurses will tell you there’s no such thing as a typical or average day. Every day brings new patients and new challenges that push nurses to their limits in different ways. Even if patients have similar conditions, each has a different emotional state and life situation. These experiences, while often difficult to navigate, can make you a better nurse and give you that sense of fulfillment that inspired you to become a nurse in the first place.
A nurse’s day begins by getting up to speed on their patients. Which patients have tests or procedures scheduled? Have they been prepped? Which patients are being discharged? Do lab results need to be reported to the doctor? Once these and other questions have been answered, nurses can get a sense of what their day looks like and plan accordingly.
Of course, a single emergency can change a registered nurse’s day on a dime. There could be a sudden surge in patients. There could be a terrible accident or tragedy. A patient or family member could have a meltdown at any time. Nurses are trained to expect the unexpected.
If there’s one part of a registered nurse’s day that’s consistent, it’s the daily care protocols that must be followed at all times. Nurses are constantly monitoring patients and following a strict schedule of care.
This includes but is not limited to hourly rounds, performing and charting assessments, taking vitals, administering medication, completing doctor’s orders, starting new IVs, changing wound dressings, replacing expired tubing, and even arranging and helping patients with meals. Over the course of the day, nurses will also be involved with discharging patients, admitting new patients, and communicating patient issues to doctors.
One thing that isn’t high on the priority list but should be, especially for new nurses, is having lunch and taking a break. Nurses work long, grueling hours. While it may seem tempting to show people how dedicated you are by working straight through, you’ll need that break to get through the second half of the day.
Speaking of long hours, the schedule may say 7 am to 7 pm, but nurses can’t simply walk out the door when the clock says it’s the end of the shift. Nurses must complete charts, discharges and admissions, and then provide patient reports and handover the workload to the nurses on the next shift. Which patients’ conditions have improved? Which patients’ conditions have worsened? Communicating this information to nurses on the next shift is critical.
Perhaps the most important daily function of a registered nurse – one that doesn’t show up on patient charts but often appears in patient surveys – is to show compassion for the patient. Nurses spend a lot of time educating patients and families. They answer questions and offer encouragement and support. They often provide patients with a shoulder to cry on.
While this can be emotionally draining, the compassion a registered nurse shows for patients is a large part of what makes nursing so rewarding. Registered nurses make a difference in people’s lives each day, not just by following procedures, solving problems and making smart decisions under pressure, but by truly caring for patients – clinically and emotionally.
Do nurses follow a routine? Yes. Is there any such thing as a routine day? Absolutely not. Most registered nurses wouldn’t have it any other way.